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(Completed) Semi-casual birding in Marlborough

Posted: Fri Jan 01, 2021 7:40 pm
by Jake
Two days of casual-ish birding, centred around a Blumine Island trip:
I had started contributing to a thread about Orange-fronted kakariki and Blumine Island, but it got a bit long and I didn't want to dominate someone else's topic - You might see where I decided to cut loose and diverge from just Blumine Is.. I don't want to embarrass my friend and won't mention names; neither of us have been to Blumine Island before but I'm familiar with birds around Blenheim, so it was a good trip and I was mainly aiming to get as many lifers for her as I could. Sorry if this is a bit incoherent and long-winded. Here's the link that was the inspiration for our trip:

We've just come back, yesterday, from an overnight to Blumine Island, and highly recommend it. Cougerline is the company that ferried us out: I understand they were the cheapest, at $65 pp, each way. There's a seperate camping fee of $6 pp, per night. Our boat left at 10 am and the Picton i-site, where you need to pay camping fees, opens at 10 am which was the only hiccup - we paid after the fact, but that wasn't ideal. I'm unsure if you can pay at the DOC office in Picton, but they were closed for the holidays anyway. Despite it being a DOC campground, you cannot pay online, as you would with a hut - and it is a first come, first serve basis for pitching a tent on the island: there is a sliver of suitable grass for tents; there's also no jetty on the island, so prepare for getting wet shoes. The boat booking could only be made via phone/request. We were dropped at the campsite, which means you can pack a few more luxuries, that you might not tramp in, like beeries and inflatable mattresses. The camp facilities are: non-potable fresh water tap; long-drop toilet and picnic tables and benches. Be prepared for wekas stealing stuff! Cell phone coverage is spotty but slightly available.

We were hopeful but did not see/hear any riflemen, robins, fantails, riorio, mohua or kaka. There were excellent numbers of orange-front parakeets and quite a few Southern saddlebacks though and that was definately worth the trip. The parakeets were seen and heard everywhere, but particularly around the campsite. We heard rowi (probable) and ruru (plus weka) calling at night. The numbers of bellbirds was incredible: I played audio of a saddleback and drew in ~30 bellbirds into the immediate area. Variable oystercatchers, weka, kereru, tui welcome swallows, silvereyes were common and Southern tomtits were seen frequently. One little blue penguin was seen at the Northern end of the Island - there were a lot of penguin nest boxes about the place, but we didn't want to upset the birds. Blackbirds, song thrush, chaffinches and greenfinches were heard also.

A king shag was seen on the boat trip there, and one seen on the way back, plus fluttering shearwaters, gannets, spotted and pied shags, red-billed and black-backed gulls, white-fronted terns and "mystery terns" with red bills, mallards and even one NZ falcon, which flew over the boat as we were dropping the first passengers off. The Blumine king shag colony has apparently been abandoned. The skipper said he would have loved to have shown us and seen them for himself, but they simply weren't there any longer.

On Blumine, we found the saddlebacks associated with five-finger plant and the orange-fronted kakariki were seen mainly in manuka, but also flying above the canopy. The island had a lot of weta, grass skinks and raukawa geckos. Three species of orchid were noted: onion orchid, green-hoods and potato orchids, plus a native passionfruit was fruiting near the toilets.

In Picton a lone black-billed gull was noticed at the Cougerline terminal. Once we arrived back in Picton and had lunch, we headed through to the Grovetown Lagoon; I didn't realise it was so large and we hadn't put aside enough time to explore, so nothing extraordinary was seen, except our only pukeko. We shot down to Cloudy Bay Business Park (south of Blenheim) to see the plague skinks; they were sadly abundant. (Here's more info about these lizards ) And then down to Lake Elterwater, which is about 25 minutes further from Blenheim. At the lake, scaup, shovelers, paradise shelducks, Canada gooses, black swans, gray/mallards, gray teal and spurred lapwings were seen in huge numbers. One crested grebe and one hoary-headed grebe were seen feeding way out from the viewing platform.

Heading back towards Blenheim, we stopped at the water treatment plant, where three glossy ibis were seen: one pair came from Ngiao Island spoonbill colony and another was seen in the distance, just the north of here. Spoonbills were still nesting and there were good numbers of the same waterfowl seen at Elterwater, plus lots of coots, songthrush, welcome swallows, house sparrows, chaffinches, starlings, skylarks, silvereyes, and yellowhammers. Pied stilts were heard but not seen. I did see a hybrid stilt at the lagoon a few weeks ago though. No confirmed cirl buntings were seen here, but it's still generally worth keeping an eye out, especially around the carpark and the roadside. Barbary doves can be reliably seen nearby, but there provenance is questionable: bitterns, fernbirds, spotless and marsh crakes would have been good editions to our list too, but they're generally too elusive and we were mainly after "sure-thing lifers" by the end of the day i.e. Cirl bunting

The day drew on and still aiming for buntings, we shot up to the Wither Hills (Quail Stream) walkway: it's generally good birding here and historically excellent for cirl buntings; alas none were (confidently) seen. After a 15 minute walk, there is a water fountain and the track forks three ways, taking the hard left and questionable track, just past the farm gate has been reliable in the past. Not today. We did see a pair of black morph fantails and a pair of riorio right here though: incidentally, on this mission, many California quail, a small congregation of shining cuckoos, tonnes of yellowhammers, house sparrows, chaffinches goldfinches (including juveniles), a few bellbirds, tui, greenfinches skylarks and dunnocks. One kahu and black-backed gull were seen plus magpies. The number of tuis was unexpected and delightful: they're making a comeback in Blenheim it seems. No redpolls were seen, but it's usually a decent place to spot them.

The Taylor Dam is just near here too and is now a good place for dabchicks but we're both very familiar with them so let that slide. Taylor Dam is great for general birding with very occasional black-fronted terns, falcons, and sometimes sometimes buntings too but dominated by more common birds

So the two day, slowbirding/amateur trip was a success, with some genuine heavyweights encountered:
    Orange-fronted parakeets
    Southern saddleback
    King shags
    Hoary-headed grebe
    Glossy ibis
    Crested grebe

Honorable mentions:
    NZ falcon
    Little blue penguin
    Variable oystercatchers
    Spotted shag
    Fluttering shearwaters
    White-fronted terns
    Black morph fantails
    Shining cuckoos
    Royal spoonbills
    Significant congregations of scaup, paradise shelducks, shovelers and grey teal

Hope this thread throws some inspiration out there for an easy and surprisingly cheap weekend birding/twitching